Rick Tocchet’s Canucks found a new way to win in Game 3, as they have all season long

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Nashville Predators in Friday’s Game 3 of Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And they did so while only taking just 12 official shots on Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros.
After setting the tone in Game 1, the Canucks allowed the Predators to return the favour as Game 2 turned into a sludge-match of just 34 cumulative shots between the two teams. As the Predators blocked what seemed like hundreds of shot attempts, the Canucks fell in that one to the tune of 4-1.
It’s arguable that, with home-ice advantage now in hand, Nashville again set the tone in Game 3. But this time around, things were different. This time, the Canucks found a way to beat the Predators at their own game. They found an entirely new way to win amid some truly unique circumstances, and that’s something Rick Tocchet’s team has been doing all season long.
It cannot be emphasized how strange of a game this was for the 2023/24 Canucks in particular. Those 12 shots on net were their lowest total of the season, with the next lowest being a couple of 16-shot efforts against Edmonton and Ottawa back in October and November.
The Canucks weren’t an exceptionally high-shooting team in the regular season. Their 28.4 shots-per-game only ranked 26th in the NHL (though it’s worth noting that the Canucks are part of a large glut in the middle, and that they’re closer to the 10th place team than the last place team.)
But 12 shots isn’t just less than half their regular season average, it’s less than half of the average of that just-mentioned last-place team (the San Jose Sharks with 25.2). It’s a preposterously low amount, is the point.
And the 18 shots that the Canucks recorded in Game 2? That’s tied for their fifth-lowest total of the season, and that’s with the Canucks trailing and playing catch-up for the majority of the game.
So, what was the difference between the two games?
Blocked shots, pretty much.
The Canucks watched the Predators absorb shot after shot in Game 2, for a total of 30 recorded blocked shots – to the Canucks’ eight.
But Vancouver turned that right back around on Nashville on Friday evening. For Game 3, the Canucks’ became the shot-blocking masters, out-blocking the Predators 28-11, with Ian Cole blocking five shots all his own, including a few in crucial moments.
Those 28 blocks were the most the Canucks blocked in a game all season, beating their previous best of 25 set in that same October 14 game against Edmonton in which they only recorded 16 shots.
To recap, Game 3 represented both the fewest shots taken and the most shots blocked of the entire 2023/24 season by the Canucks.
In other words, what seems to have happened is that Nashville has challenged the Canucks to play a much tighter, more cloying, defensive-sacrifice-based game than they’re used to, and the Canucks have immediately responded by playing that same game better than the Preds themselves.
But as impressive as a turnaround as it was, it should perhaps come as little surprise. Adaptability has been a Canuck trademark under Tocchet.
Everyone remembers the PDO wave of early 2023/24, in which the Canucks were scoring on a high percentage of their shots and cashing in on more goals than were “expected.” While the good times were rolling, the Canucks leaned in, playing a more open style of hockey in which they allowed more shots than they took and still came out on top most nights.
That streak of unbelievable puck-luck couldn’t last forever. But Tocchet’s Canucks beat the regression allegations by shifting their focus and transforming as a team as the regular season wore on.
As the goals dried up a little, then a lot – with Vancouver dropping from first place in goals-per-game in the first half all the way down to 24th in the second half – they tightened up defensively, and thus kept winning games.
Through the final 41 games, the Canucks’ goals-against-per-game of 2.80 ranked a much nicer 10th best. Which, to be clear, is still a decline from their rank through the first 41 (fourth overall and 2.59.) But that doesn’t change the fact that when goals became harder to come by, the Canucks shifted their focus to defence and – most importantly – kept winning.
The Canucks’ record through the first 41 games of the regular season was 27-11-3 for 57 points. Their record through the latter 41 games was 23-12-6 for 52 points. And that’s with lengthy absences to Thatcher Demko and Dakota Joshua in the back-half!
The larger point here is that whether you call it adaptability, versatility, or just good ol’ survival instincts, it’s become a calling card of the Tocchet-era Canucks. They don’t score just one way, they don’t defend just one way, and they don’t win just one way. Heck, for the first time in forever, Tocchet’s Canucks don’t even take on each power play in the exact same way.
And, in the playoffs, that’s vital. Each series brings new challenges, and chief among those challenges is a game-plan designed specifically to stifle you and flummox your team’s typical repertoire of winning tactics.
If Tocchet and the Canucks can keep adapting and finding new ways to win by beating their opponents at their own game, it’ll go a long way toward their going a long way, both in this playoff run and those to come.

Check out these posts...